Freedom Organix - Farm Blog
It seems like spring is finally here and I'm looking forward to a bountiful season. One of my favorite things to do is to walk the fields in the morning and see furry little bee butts hanging out of my squash flowers while the bees do their very important work. Or to have fat, happy, bumblebees go nuts over the scent of basil as we harvest it. Bees are responsible for pollinating about 50% of our food crops...stuff like watermelons and tomatoes and strawberries and apples. Bees of all types are very much Friends of the Farm and we grow things like buckwheat and clover as our welcome mat of sorts to invite them onto our fields.
There is a disease named "Colony Collapse Disorder" that has wiped out (depending on who you ask) 20-50% of our nation's honey bees over this past winter. It turns out there is no disorder at all; it is a particular class of pesticide, called neonicotinoids, that has killed the bees. I like to call it Common Sense Collapse Disorder, because chemicals that kill insects (bees are insects after all) should have been the first place they looked for an answer, but instead they blamed mites and mold for many years. The chemical has already been banned in Europe and European bee populations have rebounded.
As an organic farmer, the regulations allow me to use several approved pesticides. I don't use them because they kill the beneficial insects as well. Conventional agriculture defends its use of chemicals by saying organic farming techniques can't feed the world. (That is a HUGE unfounded lie that I'll address another time.) The irony is that if conventional agriculture kills the bees that pollinate 50% of food that humans eat directly, NO ONE will be able to feed the world.
So if, as they say, we want answers, we should follow the money. Corn and soybeans don't need bees to produce (corn is wind pollinated and soybeans are self-pollinated). Therefore dead honey bees don't have any impact on big commodity farmers, which represent about 70% of crops grown in the U.S. (These are not crops we eat directly. Those commodity crops end up as animal feed and high fructose corn syrup . They are also the crops that receive subsidies.) So, companies like Monsanto, which sell GMO seed for the farmers to plant and toxic chemicals for farmers to spray, are the responsible parties for the bee die off. The damage that their chemicals cause to other farms, the environment, and the public in general, never impacts their bottom line. They have built a business model that captures a profit from the biggest segment of the agriculture market, corn and soy, and their business model is immune to the downside of their products. In other words they make a profit at everyone else’s expense. This is unethical at best and should be illegal as well. I assure you that if corn and beans were dependent on bees for pollination, the problem of pollinator die off would have been solved years ago if it even existed at all.
I don’t want you to get mad, I want you to get motivated. I think I’ve explained that bees aren’t just Friends of my Farm, they are your friends too. Our trusted government agencies (EPA, FDA), that should have stood in the way of companies that create havoc with our food supply through chemical contamination and Frankenstein GMO life forms, didn’t do their job. Big Ag and Big Chemical have powerful, well-funded lobbyists and legal teams that work every day to advance the interests of the companies they work for. If you eat three squares a day, you can work every day to advance your own interests, because like it or not you have a dog in this fight. Here’s how: Support GMO labeling, buy organic when you can, support small farmers, and plant a garden! v
We are looking forward to a new year and a new season. Nothing is more exciting than receiving a new 2013 seed catalog filled with all the promise and hope a new season brings. Most catalogs sent to farmers are not the pretty pictorial catalogs sent to consumers. They are usually long lists of available varieties and list discounts based on volume purchases. Usually printed on newsprint. Simple, direct, functional. But some are filled with gorgeous photos of beautiful vegetables and flowers...intoxicating. One of the glossiest catalogs I receive is from Johnny's Selected Seeds. Along with beautiful photos it is filled with invaluable planting and growing information. A tattered copy is usually shoved somewhere in my golf cart as a reference. Their seeds are packaged from as few as 30 Cinderalla Squash seeds to huge 50 lb. bags of Tongue of Fire beans. Something for everyone!
Which brings me to my wish for our members in 2013: Grow some of your own food. A patch of lettuce, a pot of herbs----heck even some catnip for your cat!
There are many reasons for this wish, but the basis is because as a culture we are far removed from the production of one of our most basic needs. We go to the grocery store and our food is just 'there', abundant and affordable. And sometimes that makes us take it for granted. As a farmer, this wish is also quite selfish. Some of my most favorite interaction with members is when they are gardeners. These members already know what it takes to grow their own food. They already know that there is a huge difference in flavor of home grown food. They already know how much organic material it takes to keep a vegetable patch thriving, labor to keep a compost pile 'cooking', and watering to keep the tomatoes growing. People that have tried (and failed or succeeded) to grow their own food fold gently into our member community. People who have not tried to grow their own food send me e-mails telling me "it's August, the drought is over, where are my strawberries." CSA is a way that we all can connect through our most basic of needs . It demands that you connect, participate, and learn about food, climate, weather.....all things that don't concern us when we go to the grocery store.. That's why were're here...to educate, share, and enjoy!
Well, each day when I check the cattle I pay special attention to the pregnant heifers. Three of them are due to calve between January and March. If a heifer has been lying down, when she stands up I can see her calf kicking from inside of her womb. This morning one of the heifers was starting to bag up, her ligaments were loosening, and she became more slab sided. It's hard to tell exactly when she will go into labor, but in the cold weather it's important for us to be nearby to assist if necessary and move the calf to a protected area if need be. Calving time is my favorite part of raising cattle, and I can hardly wait to see what the new calves will look like.
All I can say is wow! Our cattle were still happily grazing down the buffer zones between fields before the storm hit last week. In this climate it is rare to be able to graze livestock well into December. After the rain, followed by sleet, then snow, and a big temperature drop, it looks like winter is here to stay.
Along with planning our vegetables for 2013, we are awaiting calves from three of our home raised registered Hereford heifers. These three heifers, Perfect, Wookie, and Stringy, were the nicest from the 2010 crop and we held them back so we could expand our herd. This is the first calf for all three, and while we usually use artificial insemination (AI), these were field bred at a neighbor's farm. Our neighbor has a handsome Angus bull and the cross of Hereford to Angus always produces 'black baldies'...solid black bodies and white faces. AI makes it much easier to predict the due date, but because these heifers were turned out with a bull it is much harder to narrow down their expected calving date. If I were curious enough, a vet could perform an ultrasound and tell the exact stage of fetal development and the calf's gender, but I like surprises! So we will be watching closely for signs of labor and hoping it won't be in the middle of winter storm. The maternity ward in our barn is ready just in case!
We are at the tail end of the most difficult season we have ever had. Extreme temperatures, and the deepest drought since the 1980's tested our mettle, our resistance to heat stroke, and most of all our commitment to farming. I have always said that if farmers didn't farm, they would be gamblers....always believing the next time around will be better.
In that spirit, we have begun planning for our 2013 CSA season and we are planning on a larger U-pick adventure for those that want to come out to the farm and harvest their own vegetables. This year we are planning U-picks for Spring Sugar Snap Peas, summer Tomatoes, and considering a small pumpkin patch.
We look forward to being your farmers in 2013.
Thanks for your comment. Yes, the summer of 2012 was hard on many CSA farms in our area, and I know of farmers that were forced to cancel their CSA shares mid-season, while many more struggled, as we did, to fill the boxes each week.
As far as our plans for 2013, first we are hoping for more typical weather for our region. Wishing aside, it wasn't just the drought that impacted our farm---it was the heat as well. Constant, unusually high day and night temperatures can be just as devasting to plants as drought. High soil temperatures impact growth (and flavor!) of shallow rooted vegetables such as lettuces. High daytime and night time temperatures don't allow beans to pod. Those are just a few examples. Also, it is easier for a farmer to increase warmth for crops (through row covers and high tunnels) than it is too cool things down. The heat also stressed our plants so compared to previous season we saw damage from insect pests increase as well. That being said, if we have another season of excessive heat, there is not a lot of measures that we can take as farmers to offset that impact.
Mid-season in 2012 we extended our drip irrigation system that all of our vegetable/flower/herb fields are irrigated, so we are well prepared in the event of another drough year in 2013. We also have some of the very best soil in the region, one of the many reasons we picked this land to begin with. Soil tests show organic matter at 4%, which means that our soil is very good at holding water for plants to use. We will continue to care for our soil so that we can grow strong healthy plants able to withstand extreme conditions.
Another strategy that we will continue in 2013 is to plant a variety of crops that do well under different circumstances. The result is that out of those crops, we will generally have good production of crops that prefer whatever mother nature hands us.
We are looking forward to a great season in 2013.